Thursday, 25 September 2008

From Ma'ale Adumim to Balata: a mindset afar

High atop the East Jerusalem settlement of Ma'ale Adumim a small debate is underway. We're at the end of an ICAHD tour around this part of the city, observing the geography and demography of occupation. Demolished Palestinian homes, many more scheduled for rubble, settler control of key roads, locations and infrastructure, rich and well-connected Zionist investors building affluent Jewish apartments, de-Arabification of the landscape, municipal connivance over construction permits and many other forms of civil encroachment - all integral elements of the quiet displacement and ethnic cleansing of an unwelcome Arab population.

As our guide notes, en route, Palestinians living in East Jerusalem suffer multiple forms of social and political exclusion. They have no actual citizenship, only 'residency rights'. Although paying the same taxes as Israelis, they receive a fraction of the local budget, with little allocation for basic services like roads and refuse collection. Palestinian access to basic schooling is well below any Israeli standard. And, in an ever-physical statement of their disconnection, a grotesque section of concrete wall now sits across Jericho Road, one of the once main arterial highways in and out of Jerusalem. On the 'other side' sits the remainder of Abu Dis, families and friends now partitioned and isolated.

There's spirited discussion on what kind of solution might begin to address such inhumanity, our guides leaning admirably towards a one state model requiring parity of political rights and citizenship. Yet, here, in front of this lush green settler haven, with its gun-toting police, multiple schools, gleaming clinics, sleek shops, street fountains and tree-lined drives, an apparently difficult question, prompted by them, still hangs in the air: can people in such now 'established' places really be expected to uproot as part of any solution to the conflict?

It's a wider question that sits heavily even with many 'progressive' Israelis, unable to comprehend the idea of further dislocation. On the surface, it seems a reasonable concern. Ultimately, there has to be a just peace for all. And that requires lateral thought, particularly here in Jerusalem, on how to pursue a solution which, whether in one or two state form, removes not Jewish people, but Israel's Jewish-only ethnocracy, replacing it with open, equal rights and citizenship for all. True democratic and civil equivalence rather than religio-ethnic apartheid.

A report by UN special Rapporteur John Dugard has highlighted Ma’ale Adumim as one of "three major settlement blocs [that] will effectively divide Palestinian territory into cantons or Bantustans." It's illegality and strategic intent are clearly evident.

Yet, here at this residential idyll, a thought persists: why, I ask our assembled group, is there often such hesitancy in 'thinking the unthinkable' about displacing this kind of privileged suburb, in contrast to the regular and 'accepted' upheavals reserved for Palestinians?

It's a subtle and often unstated discrimination, which, I suspect, inhabits many sympathetic Israeli minds. Indeed, one may venture, the problem is less to do with the removal of people than the removal of a mindset in which 'the problem' itself is framed. The settlers here in East Jerusalem, the argument goes, are living 'normal' lives, sending their kids to school, going to work, taking evening strolls. Can we really expect them just to move? Wouldn't this just exacerbate the problem?

The concern may be well-meaning: do we resolve the problem through creating more displacement and enmity? Yet, the 'dilemma' is posed ever so 'liberally', that one can easily lose sight of the still-outstanding issue: the expansionist purpose of these settlements and the obstacles they pose to any just solution. Again, the obstruction is part of a mindset which fosters differential assumptions about how settlers and refugees should be regarded.

Settlement and camp

The 'problem' comes to mind again later that day, while we're in Aida refugee camp, Bethlehem. We hear from our dear friend Hiba, just graduated as a nurse, how, for no obvious reason, other than sheer intimidation, the soldiers have been coming to her house at three in the morning, battering the door, rattling the windows and terrorising the family. Among many such stories, we learn how one women in this camp lost a hand to an IDF explosive placed on her door handle as she tried to open it to shouting soldiers. They said "sorry", apparently, and left. No one was ever brought to justice.

Breaking Ramadan fast with the enticing food prepared by Hiba's engaging family, we learn of their collective efforts to build and improve their home. Just part of the valiant, dignified desire of Palestinians to live a normal life. Why, I wonder, should their basic wishes and rights to a peaceful, secure existence seem so secondary to that of affluent urban settlers?

Accompanied by Khalid, another kind and caring friend, we visit more struggling families in nearby Al Aza Camp, providing some relief along the way. As in most camps, UNRWA (United Nations Relief and Works Agency) has effectively abandoned many to a life of back-alley poverty and isolation. Rich Arab countries also remain shamefully complicit in their collective abandonment of these bleak ghettoes. Despite the wonderful spirit of the people, conditions are primitive, with appalling housing and lack of services.

We're also making a return visit here to an extended family looking after a number of physically and mentally impaired kids. Their love and fortitude is simply inspiring. We help a little before going on to see and assist another little boy with special mental health needs whom the UN has failed to send to school. Most of these children will never receive the kind of qualitative medical and vocational attention taken for granted in Ma'ale Adumim.

Breaking Ramadan fast with Khalid's wonderful family, we talk of the daily restrictions for people here, the sickening sight of the wall slicing through Bethlehem, the humiliations for those trying to get past the brutal checkpoint. Again, it's a way of life beyond the comprehension of Ma'ale Adumim's residents as they make their way from hilltop safety along sleek Jewish-only highways into downtown Jerusalem, never having to see or contemplate an Arab locale or refugee camp.

Far from the 'chosen' hill

Later that week, I reflect on the staggering gulf between the pastoral air of Ma'ale Adumim and the squalid conditions of Balata refugee Camp, Nablus. We hear more heartbreaking stories of people killed and injured by invading soldiers and snipers. Walking the shoulder-wide alleys, we witness the anonymous degradation of Palestinian kids, the kind of multiple deprivation that children in Ma'ale Adumim will never know, or probably ever know about.

Two small boys lead us up into the broken, pitiful patch of Balata cemetery, taking us from grave to grave of those lost to "the jesh" (Israeli soldiers). They seem disturbingly accepting of the human toll, one indicating the lair and martyr photo of his lost brother, killed by "the jesh". They skip among the plots, pointing to a tiny mound: "Baby. Jesh". And another: "Baby. Jesh."

The fighters from the camp, it appears, are all gone; imprisoned or dead. Everywhere, along the camp's dilapidated streets, evidence of the purges: bullet-holed walls and posters of young martyred men, their serene-like faces superimposed with guns and other militarist memorabilia. It's a graphic statement of how this community takes ongoing strength from its fallen sons and their resistant sacrifices.

Is there a better way? Of course. But it's not easily apparent or open to young men growing up inside this brutalised place. I think of how these young people should be alive and organising passive forms of resistance rather than lying dead and martyred.

Heroically, some are managing to show that more effective way forward. I meet with the remarkable Mohammed Faraj, a fine journalism student, teacher and friend of GPHRC, learning about his inspiring media and film work with the kids here as they use cameras, computers and poetry to record their experiences, heartaches and hopes. Mohammed is co-founder with Matthew Cassel of Picture Balata, a group GPHRC have been proud to assist.

Despite frustrating problems obtaining exit permissions from the Israelis, the project recently took some of the Balata youngsters on a well-received tour of US cities, exhibiting their artworks and articulating what life is like inside Balata. It's a case of resisting the Occupation through photos. Pictures and words as 'weapons' of resistance.

We also speak with the resilient Mark Turner, founder of the Research Journalism Initiative, about his collaborations with Mohammed in linking students on US campuses with the people of Balata.

I'm simply infused by the dedication and compassion of these people. Despite being imprisoned, shot and permanently injured, Mohammed remains an endearingly warm, caring and thinking man, a true role model to the kids and students who seem to casually drop into his poster-adorned flat. Mark, likewise, seems like a person truly at home here in his open familiarities and interactions with Balata residents.

In this spirit, trying to leave the camp is quite an exercise in itself, as our little GPHRC group is hand-shaken and hugged by more smiling friends, with mandatory stops for Arabic coffee and further invites to Balata homes. Another larger-than-life character insists I follow him through one of the thin alleyways where, to my happy amazement, young lads are training on a basic, floodlit football pitch.

It seems another statement of quiet resilience amid the mediocrity of Balata's broken 'infrastructure'. There's no serious public services here. No well-equipped clinics. No grand schools. No fancy shops. Just a ramshackle of stalls and stores on the main street, many broken and scarred by army invasions. Sixty five percent of all Palestinians live beneath the poverty line, and those in the camps are on the lowest possible rung. Compared to Ma'ale Adumim, it's a humanitarian affront. Balata is a containment within a containment, its residents a non-people among a non-people. They are also hospitable and caring to a degree that makes one want to cry.

Again, that question: why is there such gut-wrenching debate on whether settlers should be uprooted from their privileged and illegal locations, while these grossly-neglected camps are invaded, terrorised and forgotten?

At the heart of this issue sits a basic 'home' truth: Israeli and wider Western racism. Israel, with the support of its allies, is a country which simply refuses to recognise or apply the law. It's a belligerent denial of due process, from ignoring the International Criminal Court ruling on the Wall to the ongoing expansion of illegal settlements in East Jerusalem. A might-is-right mindset, ruthlessly apparent in the dismissive treatment of an entire people.

It's an accepted apartheid openly endorsed by many Israelis, from the degradations of the West Bank camps and checkpoints to the brooding military intimidations of Arab 'citizens' around Damascus Gate and its environs. During Ramadan, severe restrictions are placed upon Palestinians trying to enter the Old City to pray at the Al Aqsa Mosque. Young Arabs are constantly stopped, inspected and harassed. All in stark contrast to non-Muslim movement and life around the Jewish Quarter.

Challenging the mindset

Back home in Glasgow, we listen to Jeff Halper, founder of ICAHD, talk of this seemingly automated Zionist mindset, which believes, irrefutably, that 'we are naturally here to Judaize our land'.

It chimes, disturbingly, with the one-dimensional racism recently vented by a Zionist woman at our stall, who, resistant to all arguments about international law and human justice, told me: "There is no such thing. There is only Jewish law." So, does that mean that Arabs have no recourse to the law, I asked her? The response was alarmingly candid: "Arabs are beneath the law." I asked her to leave.

In the course of resisting house demolitions, Halper offers further insight on this casual negation of Palestinians. As he stood in an East Jerusalem neighbourhood with Shaadi Hamdan watching his house being reduced to dust, an Israeli Border Policeman approached telling them: "I was born to demolish Palestinian homes." Halper struggles to describe Shaadi's feelings as the policeman walked away:
"I can't convey the mixture of anger, anguish, bewilderment and resignation that crossed Shaadi's face at that moment. He simply stood aside as his home was demolished for the second time."
Unable to accept this wickedness, Halper rushed into the house trying to prevent the demolition from proceeding, before being handcuffed and forcibly thrown back onto the street on the orders of a furious head of police. While lying there, he witnessed some more typical racist banality:
"Lying on the ground as the bulldozer commenced its evil work, I noted what I often see at demolitions: police and soldiers standing around laughing among themselves, eating sandwiches, swapping the latest sports news." (ICAHD communication, April 2008.)
As Halper reminds us, this hateful subjugation fits with what Israel, in conjunction with its militarist friends, is doing all across the Occupied Territories. Some 5 million Palestinians are being contained as a "surplus people", a 'problem' population not only to be "warehoused", but to be used as experimental human fodder. Sound familiar?

For Halper, ICAHD's work is not some humanitarian intervention serving merely to assist Palestinians. It's an overtly "political" response, a direct form of "resistance". That's a brave and admirable statement from a Jewish Israeli - indicating just why the EU have stopped ICAHD's funding.

Such punishment is serving to perpetuate the staggering disparities between prestigious settlements like Ma'ale Adumim and suffering, neglected camps like Aida, Aza and Balata. It also helps maintain the racist inclinations lurking in many Israeli minds.

There will, one hopes, be a just and equitable solution, in Jerusalem and across the rest of Occupied Palestine. But it will only come when Israelis and others feel and show the same true regard for those living in places like Balata, a place, a life, a human existence far beyond not just the leafy streets but the very mindset of Ma'ale Adumim.


Recounted from Glasgow Palestine Human Rights Campaign visit to the West Bank, September 2008.

Sunday, 21 September 2008

International Peace Day

And the guns fell down
The hateful shrill
Of warmongers
And profiteers
Awed to silence
By the stirring innocence
Of a newborn's breath
And we sought
On this day
In our imaginings
In our hearts
In our caring minds
The art of love
And life
And justice
In peacetime


Tuesday, 16 September 2008

Checkpoint scenes: processing a people

Qalandia checkpoint, oppressive gateway to and from Ramallah. The usual humiliations. Metal turnstiles, green and red flashing lights, baggage and fingerprint scanners, and, on cue, a female IDF officer barking her shrill orders through a blaring tannoy.

The recipients of her abrasive pitch are young Palestinian mothers with babes over their shoulders, rushing back and forth between the scanners and thick glass of the reinforced bunkers. Inside, the officer, quite oblivious to their stress, inspects their permits, still addressing them as some kind of subhuman species. There's a distinct air of excited superiority in her voice. A pleasure in the power. Just another cruel, demoralising scene, played-out every day at this and other clinical checkpoints across the West Bank.

On the other side of the high metal fence, Palestinians are returning back into the West Bank, their permits inspected, with just one remaining turnstile to exit. It's six-ish, Friday night, and people are rushing to get home in time to break Ramadan fast. We notice a particularly large swell of people at the exit gate which, for no apparent reason, remains locked. Ever-used to such indignities, they wait.

The time goes on, with no sign of the green light coming on. We go over, asking, through the iron railing, what the hold up is for. No one knows. Some ask if we can help. We approach an army booth on our side of the fence, gesturing to another female officer inside: "Why the hold-up? Why is the gate closed?" She shrugs dismissively, waving us away. We persist, drawing her attention again to the, by now, growing and irritated crowd. Again, she waves a contemptuous hand and resumes eating crisps from a bag. We insist some more, and, finally, after making a call, leaves the box, followed by three heavily-armed soldiers, making their way towards the locked-in Palestinians. We move back to the fence as one of the radio-speaking soldiers winds his way to the front of the crowd, the others behind. And then we see the object of their advances: a lad of no more than ten or twelve standing with an old lady, probably his grandmother.

Seeing them approach, the child begins crying and shaking in terror. We manage to put our hands through the fence, holding the boy's shoulders, trying to reassure him while asking the soldiers why they want him. By now, he's gripping on to the old lady, terrified and wailing. But the soldiers manage to prise him off. Our presence and protests elicit a certain 'cautious' handling. But it can't offset the fear in his eyes. Both are led away towards another open compound, the line of soldiers ignoring our repeated requests for an explanation as they pass us on the other side of the fence.

The boy and old lady stand uneasily, as we call through to them while phoning to report the situation. As the large crowd, many angry, are eventually allowed to exit, they are both led away through another set of locked gates, forlorn and fragile figures dwarfed by the steel fences and uncaring power of this brutal system. A man on the other side waits and thanks us for our attentions, his eyes registering the usual knowing resignation.

The service bus at the other side now gone, we're processed through our side of the facility, the shrieking officer still in full flow. Presenting my passport, I ask her (déjà vu) why she can't, at least, speak to people in a civilised manner. The response is sharp and indignant: "Why would you want to be involved?" "We're all involved", I remind her, "in our responsibility for others." She wants to know if I'm a journalist or some kind of observer. I tell her I'm a tourist, careful to retrieve my passport her colleague has been examining, though, in walking away, let her know that "I'm more involved than you think". "You, you come back here", she screams through the blaring loudspeaker, angry at being rebuked by this 'meddlesome outsider'. I ignore her hollering and walk on through the gate.

Back on the bus, we reflect on the little boy's terrified face. There's something particularly disturbing about children being led away and traumatised in such ways. Even if, as is the case, many get 'used' to such treatment, what kind of long-term psychological damage does it suggest?

Control and punishment

Another day, another long, slow line-up of Palestinians at Huwarra checkpoint, outside Nablus. The broken approach track, with its sharp, jagged stones, make it difficult for people to walk. No pavement. No consideration. Just one more inconvenience for people deemed unworthy of the basic rights and conditions most Israelis take for granted.

"Listen to the soldier's orders", read the signs in English and Arabic. Not, "Please have your documents ready" or other such courteous instruction. It's all part of the daily humiliation, the language of occupation designed to make a people feel inferior and beaten.

Today, the sweltering detention pen is occupied by a young Palestinian lad of about fifteen. We go around the side metal fence, calling over to ask him why he's been detained. Because "I smiled at the soldier", he tells us, gesturing the sign on his face. Asking the soldiers on the other side why he's been held, we're met with a series of excuses ranging from the lame to the fantastic. His papers are being checked over, says one. So, why has he been there an hour already, we ask? Such people have to be investigated by the Israeli secret intelligence, another informs us. We marvel at his ability to straight-face this incredulous lie.

The more plausible reason can be seen in the zealous behaviour of the officer who has likely locked him up. Nor can he contain his open hatred of us for questioning his actions. "You step over that blue line once more", he fumes, "and I swear to God...."

The painted blue line is where human rights observers sometimes stand watching for abuses. It's a token concession allowing a veneer of 'accountability'. Some observers see the pretence of it all, and the way in which they're despised as 'self-hating Jews' by the soldiers. Others, alas, seem naively taken-in by the facile 'liaison' with the officers, believing the soldiers are "just doing their job".

With no one else to observe that day, we wait to secure the boy's release. Meanwhile, I chat to a young Palestinian ambulance medic who relates the difficulty people have in coming through even the so-called "humanitarian queue" for women, kids, the elderly and foreigners. The other two are the men's queues, from which young Palestinians wait longest and are routinely subject to detention in the pens. The man also recounts a disturbing exchange with a soldier, who told him that he would refuse his offer of medical attention even if he was dying.

The medic was, of course, also aware of the actual life-threatening problems posed for Palestinians by the checkpoint system. Among many such tragedies, a Palestinian woman's baby had to be delivered stillborn at Huwarra after the soldier refused her permission to reach a hospital in Nablus. How, one struggles to wonder, do quiet, innocent people manage to live with the experience of such brutality?

It's worth stopping just to think about this for a moment: an internal checkpoint. The restriction of people inside their 'own' territory, a territory not only occupied but sealed-off by a fortified, electrified wall. It's a remarkable evil. Bad enough that one's country is controlled at land borders by a foreign military force. Much worse that Palestinians in the West Bank can't even move from occupied town to occupied town within those stolen borders.

The Palestinian boy is eventually released, smiling as he joins his awaiting friends. He's not, we must assume, a scheming terrorist, after all. Just an 'impudent' Palestinian who has been punished for his grin. His place is soon taken-up by two other Palestinian youths, the soldier taking away their papers for 'closer inspection'.

Some days later we're walking through an affluent tree-lined street in West Jerusalem, where Israeli parents stroll on pristine pavements while their healthy, happy kids pedal along on smart bikes. I think of the broken 'pavements' at Huwarra and the Palestinians queuing in the searing heat, contained, corralled and degraded by hostile soldiers. And I think of the people locked like cattle inside the Qalandia security pen. And of the facial terror of the small Palestinian boy and his old gran, marched-off like criminals through this Nazi-style facility.

On the West Jerusalem street, it seems inconceivable that an Israeli child would ever suffer such an experience. And herein lies the deep and shameful truth of Israel's view of Palestinians. The checkpoints are just part of what Jeff Halper calls Israel's "Warehousing", a system of control which far surpasses even the standard apartheid divisions in South Africa.

The Palestinians are being treated, notes Halper, as a "surplus people", a mass of humanity to be herded, held and hidden. They are seen not as a community or real proto-state to be consulted or negotiated with, but a 'problem' people over which Israel is pursuing its 'final solution' of permanent subjugation.

The daily misery and tragedy of checkpoint life serves a vital purpose in reminding Palestinians of their expected acceptance of such containment.


Recounted from Glasgow Palestine Human Rights Campaign visit to the West Bank, September 2008.

Monday, 15 September 2008

Unreporting of West Bank: letter to the BBC


Helen Boaden, Director BBC news

Steve Herrmann, Editor, News Online

Peter Horrocks, Head of BBC TV News

Richard Sambrook, Director of World Service and Global News

I've just returned from the West Bank, witnessing, yet again, the scale and severity of Israel's oppressive containments and brutal activities. And, once again, I've come to see the appalling failure of BBC reports from all parts of the West Bank.

Here's a few examples:

On 10 September 2008, the IDF invaded Nablus (the day after we left the city) shooting dead a Palestinian man, rounding-up others and causing general terror. BBC coverage: nothing.

On 11 September 2008, near Ramallah, Israeli soldiers arrested three Palestinian minors, using one as a human shield against other Palestinians. BBC coverage: nothing.

On 12 September 2008, at the brutal Huwarra checkpoint, a pregnant woman lost her baby, after the soldier refused to let her through the security point to reach hospital. A terrible, terrifying tragedy for her and her family. BBC coverage: nothing. (See below.)

On 13 September 2008, the Israeli army invaded a Bethlehem neighbourhood and killed a 16 year old child with a bullet to the chest. BBC coverage: nothing.

These are but a few incidents over just three days, none of them in the least unusual for suffering Palestinians, yet we find not a word in any BBC news outlets. Why not?

Can you, at least, see how so many people remain blithely unaware of what is really happening in this part of the world? And why that failure to inform is allowing this inhumanity to continue?

Before leaving for Palestine, I had a look at what was on offer at BBC News Online. Among the scattered features was a 'flyover' tour of the 'disputed region' from Paul Wood. Besides the privileged nature of the BBC's mode of reportage, it told us precisely nothing about what's happening on the ground. It was a top-down view of 'the conflict' loaded with 'Israel says'-type language and the strong suggestive message that 'Israel is just defending itself'.

Much more usefully, as suggested by the above links, one can click on Ma'an News Agency a concentrated Palestinian-run outfit offering almost hourly stories from every key locale in the West Bank: Jerusalem, Nablus, Jenin, Hebron, Tulkarem, Qalqilia, Ramallah, Bethlehem, Jericho -as well as the Gaza Strip. Dismally, the BBC's 'localised' output is of cursory comparison.

You will, no doubt, offer the standard excuses of limited personnel and other logistical restrictions. Yet, besides the consistently biased language and impressions given in favour of Israel, the actual absence of daily news detailing such atrocities belies any BBC claim of an all-covering news agency.

Why would I, as an interested viewer, bother to consult the BBC when I can read accurate and, yes, unbiased daily reports from sources like Ma'an?

Likewise, the BBC may send an occasional report from currently 'high-profile' places like Ni'lin. But the content and truth are a pale shadow of this kind of qualitative output from Al-Jazeera's Jackie Rowland:

Palestinians are being killed with rubber-coated steel bullets. Yet these and other routine daily atrocities receive practically zero coverage. It's a disgraceful and shameful abrogation.

The BBC would actually offer a better service in citing Ma'an and other such reports as 'sourced news' . Or, better still, having local 'feeder' journalists based in these places. Alas, one suspects, this would not quite fit with the BBC's grand ethos of 'independent' news gathering - or, more likely, the establishment etiquette of keeping within safe and 'respectable' reporting boundaries.

Palestinians are dying and suffering in virtual anonymity. I'd be pleased to hear your thoughts on what the BBC can do to improve its 'localised' coverage of death and misery in the West Bank.


John Hilley



The story about the woman at Huwarra checkpoint was, in fact, reported by the BBC:

However, one may usefully note the absence of any personalised detail of the family's suffering in the BBC version, as compared here in the Ma'an piece:

Mu’yed described his feelings during the experience as mixed with pain, oppression, hope and wonder. The child was declared officially dead when paramedics arrived at the checkpoint one hour after his birth.

When the ambulance arrived medical workers assisted Nahil with the rest of her delivery, ensuring the afterbirth was removed and her own health stable. After paramedics operated on the woman, she, the dead child, and her husband, were permitted through the checkpoint for care in the Nablus hospital.

“On the next day,” said Mu’yed “we carried our child in a cardboard box from the hospital to bury him in the graveyard of the village. On our way home through the checkpoint , the soldiers started to laugh telling each other “ Do you want to see a dead child, come over here. He is there inside the box.”


Friday, 12 September 2008

Sheik Jarrah: cleansing the neighbourhood

It's gone midnight on the pretty tiled terrace of the Al-Kurd's home in the Sheik Jarrah neighbourhood of East Jerusalem. A colleague and I from Glasgow Palestine Human Rights Campaign are bedding down, taking a turn, alongside a couple of other international activists, to form a watchful defence of the family's house. These dedicated volunteers, from all around the world, are part of a prolonged campaign to stop an Israeli takeover of this and 27 associated dwellings, the Al-Kurd's home being a critical test case of whether they succeed.

Around the terrace walls hang wonderful art banners, proclaiming "This is apartheid", "We will NEVER leave" and other messages of determined resistance. It's an admirable statement of political and personal resolve, indicating just how much is at stake here.

Mohammad and Fawzieh Al-Kurd have lived in their home since 1956, raising five children, and consider it their rightful habitat. Now the family are threatened with eviction, part of a systematic attempt to remove Palestinians from key parts of East Jerusalem. Mohammad has partial paralysis, diabetes and a heart condition. It's an intolerable stress for this quiet, dignified man and his caring wife.

The 28 units were originally funded and built by the Jordanian government, in conjunction with the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNWRA), to assist Palestinian families fleeing their homes after the 1948 Nakba. Following the Six Day War in 1967, two Israeli property companies used forged documents to claim legal ownership of the homes, securing their demands through the Israeli Land Register before issuing a suit against the families in 1972. Without proper consultation, the lawyer appointed by the families reached a settlement with the settler associations, accepting their 'ownership' of the land in return for "protected status", a limited form of tenure. The families duly sacked the lawyer and, in an act of principled refusal, withheld rent from the illegitimate owners. The settlers then used this as a pretext for gaining eviction orders against the families.

Following further litigation, the families' current lawyer was partially successful in challenging the settlers' claims, resulting in a 2006 decision from the land registry that the settlers' land rights be revoked. However, they have not, as yet, agreed to the families' demand for a formal rezoning of the area to establish, in perpetuity, rightful ownership.

This refusal appears to be a politically-based manoeuvre to strip Palestinians of their land rights, part of the de facto 'transfer' agenda Israel is operating in East Jerusalem. The families have, in turn, petitioned the Israeli Supreme Court requesting the rezoning process, the annulling of all documents relating to the settlers' land rights and cancellation of the eviction order against the Al-Kurds. The Sheik Jarrah neighbourhood committee also complain that the court decision to evict the Al-Kurd family was based solely on the 1982 case involving the compromised lawyer's 'agreement', deliberately neglecting the many new legal arguments brought in favour of the families.

Meanwhile, the original settler groups have sold-on their claims to a settler property company which, in turn, has submitted an application to demolish the 28 homes and build 200 units for new Jewish immigrants.

Adding to the stressful burden of the Al-Kurds, a group of settlers broke into an annexe of the family's home in 2001, while the family were in Jordan, taking-up illegal possession. Despite a 2007 eviction order from the Supreme Court, the settlers remain in the building, the removal instruction yet to be implemented. In stark contrast, two Palestinians from the other 27 houses have been jailed for their legitimate resistance. The Al-Kurds have lived with constant settler surveillance around their home, verbal threats, bribes and actual invasion of settlers into their house. The settler families arrive and stay on a rotational basis, making it even more difficult to secure their removal through the courts.

Such are the intimidating practices going on around this and other East Jerusalem neighbourhoods. The attempted removal of the Al-Kurds and the other 27 families is part of racially-driven project to establish yet another Jewish settlement in an area critical to any final status resolution of the overall conflict. The Sheik Jarrah committee are also scathing about the inaction of the Jordanian government and UNWRA in failing to fulfil their legal and humanitarian obligations towards the families.

Occupation is a crime

Over the next few days and nights, our GPHRC people spend more time outside the house, observing, talking about the issues and receiving the kind hospitality of this heroic family. Mrs Al-Kurd's quiet, resilient manner and caring smiles seem, in particular, so symbolic of the Palestinian people's capacity for rightful resistance. We're all greatly touched by her fortitude and generosity.

One of the Sheik Jarrah defence committee talks ruefully to us about the blatant discrimination. Besides the legal injustice in this case, he sees Israeli encroachment of the land as a negation of basic social tolerance. He reflects fondly on his pre-1948 schooldays in East Jerusalem, shared harmoniously with Jewish, Muslim, Christian and other diverse pupils.

The breakdown, he laments, intensified after '67, as Jewish claims to East Jerusalem land became coupled with spurious invocations of holy sites. Thus, a once anonymous cave linked to Simon the Just - at the short slope fronting the Sheik Jarrah homes - was increasingly heralded by settler Jews as sacred ground, providing a pretext for the takeover of nearby Palestinian dwellings. This religio-cultural posture is a familiar tactic of Israeli land grabs.

The Sheik Jarrah Committee have gained the support of many international observers and politicians. Among them is US Consulate Kyler Kronmiller, who has made numerous representations to the Israeli government on the families' behalf. The Sheik Jarrah Committee have also secured pledges of support from prominent European Union officials. It's a telling indication of Israel's excessive apartheid policies. Not even unwavering US/European support for Israel, it seems, can disguise the fundamental illegality of Israeli actions.

Yet, Israel's territorial belligerence continues, indifferent, as ever, to external, and, of course, Palestinian, objections. This territorial mindset is physically evident outside the very door of the Al-Kurds home as, on cue, every 20 minutes or so, a rotating settler from the house across the Al-Kurds wall enters to 'patrol' the terrace. He knows, of course, that there's nothing to patrol. But that's not the point of this menacing exercise. The 2-way radio, paramilitary instruments and flashlight 'checks' on the area around the settler-seized door, right next to that of the Al-Kurds, is an intimidating routine, intended to reinforce the message of a 'superior' unmoving presence.

Some of the young internationals have given 'him' the generic title "Dave", quietly sending-up his comic inspections. But they are also prepared for passive action, ready to defend the Al-Kurds door, utilising, if necessary, the thick metal chain and handcuffs already locked-on to the Al-Kurds' window bars. During our night 'shift', an apparently 'new Dave' stopped to inspect the multiple banners and wall-mounted media cuttings of the case, exchanging words in Hebrew with his gun-wielding settler friend on the roof of the house overlooking the Al-Kurds.

Occasionally, the settler family allow their four young children out onto the patio. While the parents walk blithely past the internationals, the Al-Kurds and their many visiting family and friends, the kids look on, seemingly bewildered by the situation. They appear, on the surface, rather disturbed, unaware of how to regard the smiles we show them. They are just children. Yet, children being raised to regard hate and hostility towards Palestinians as, somehow, natural. What, one wonders, resides in the minds of their parents and the Zionist agencies behind this cruel, racist exercise. We also hear reports of noisy parties from the settler house, the police refusing to respond - unlike the punitive action reserved for any Palestinian, however paltry the offence.

With more critical court decisions pending, the Al-Kurd family try to sleep at night knowing that they may soon be removed from their home. Hopefully, they feel reassured by the continued presence of activists and supporters. Theirs is but one demoralising experience among Israel's multifaceted repressions: in Gaza, a medieval siege; in the West Bank, checkpoints and refugee containments; in East Jerusalem, municipal and legally-disguised ethnic cleansing, part of the government's calculated expansion of the 250,000 Jews living illegally in this part of the city.

As the many demolished Palestinian houses and grand replacement settlements around East Jerusalem show, Israel's apartheid project here is all-consuming, doggedly resistant even to international condemnation. The plight of the Al-Kurds and their fellow residents means nothing to a state driven by greed and zero-sum expansion. But the resilience of the families and show of solidarity in Sheik Jarrah also demonstrates an enduring resistance to such racist oppression.


Update, 15 September 2008: settlers given another eviction order by the court.